NL Central: Cubs Position Players Show Spark, Still Need Work
More than likely the Chicago Cubs will finish fifth in the NL Central; but unlike last year, that will be last place. It is only Theo Epstein’s second year and he has stressed numerous times to not expect results until 2015 or 2016. However, there are a few shining stars in the lineup.
In 2007, Alfonso Soriano signed an eight-year, $136 million contract. After many lackluster years he finally broke through last year with 32 home runs, 108 RBIs, and a .262 batting average. The Cubs do not hide the fact that they are shopping him around to break free of the remaining two years valued at $36 million. While it would be nice to free the $36 million, it may not be a bad thing to keep him around, especially if he repeats his 2012 stats. But he could also be a great mentor to the younger players on the team.
One of those players is Anthony Rizzo. Many pundits predict he has the ability to be a 30-homer, 100-RBI player and his stats back their claims. He had 23 HRs and 62 RBIs in Triple A before the Cubs called him up. In his 87 games he had 15 HRs and 48 RBIs and .285 average. At first base he only had 4 errors and a field percentage of .994. Those stats are unbelievable for a first baseman considering how many times the ball is thrown to him.
The other young star is shortstop Starlin Castro, who gets better each year. In 2012 he only had 14 HRs, but managed 183 hits and 78 RBIs. While Rizzo is consistent in defense, Castro is constantly up and down. Last year was a tad better, but it still had fans and pundits scratching their heads. He ended the season with 27 errors and a fielding percentage of .964. Compare that to Rizzo’s stats it is pretty sad. Granted, the fielding at shortstop is more difficult, but if Castro would simply pay attention in the field his defense skills would be top notch. When he does pay attention he is a top shortstop.
The rest of the lineup is just iffy at best. Darwin Barney is a very talented second baseman, but his batting skills are subpar. He only had two errors in 155 games at second base and a fielding percentage of .997. Those numbers are comparable to those put up by Ryne Sandberg numbers, the legendary Cubs second baseman. However, he only had 7 HRs, 44 RBI, .254 average, and a .653 OPS. This really puts the Cubs in a conundrum because he provides great defense, but his batting is no better than a pitcher. Manager Dave Sveum told ESPN the biggest surprise of the spring is backup catcher Steve Clevenger. He batted a .201 last year in 69 games with only 1 HR and 16 RBI. Granted he was recovering from an oblique injury. This spring he is batting .395 at 100% healthy.
Ian Stewart had a very poor 2012 at third base and has maybe one more try to prove he is the man for the job. Injuries are part of the problem, but if Luis Valbuena or Josh Vitters are a better choice Stewart could find himself benched. David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz, and Scott Hairston are just middle of the road.
The Cubs were 61-101 in 2012. I predict 72-90 in 2013.